Halton has been the site of industry powered by the River Lune since at least 1252, when the lord of the manor of Halton was recorded as owning ‘two water corn mills worth forty shillings yearly’. There is also record in the same year of there being a water powered fulling mill (the earliest mills used for the production of textiles). This grew over the centuries to six water wheels at Forge Weir in 1752 to a maximum of these six wheels and four additional turbines in 1870.
During the Industrial Revolution a series of mills for cotton, silk and oil cloth were built extending from Forge Weir to the lower weir, opposite Halton Railway station. At some point in the early 20th century there was a turbine generating electricity on Forge Weir, with a ‘battery house’ (now known as ‘the Forge’ ) storing electricity for times when the water flow was too low. Water power continued to be employed until 1960, when the mills ceased operation.
Current hydro plans
The latest plan for a community owned hydro scheme on Forge Weir was proposed in 2008 (see background). Supported by a number of agencies including Lancaster City Council, The Department for Energy & Climate Change (DECC) and The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra), Halton Lune Hydro is on the verge of receiving all the final permissions required to start construction. It’s been a very long journey, and construction was supposed to have started earlier this year, but has been held up due to intense scrutiny of fish and eel pass arrangements by the Environment Agency and by disputes over land ownership around the weir. Both of these problems are in the final stages of being sorted out, and the extraction licence and the lease are expected to be completed by early September.
Community ownership and benefit
Construction will be financed by a mix of ‘community shares’ and bank finance, with all of the environmental work funded by a grant from the EU administered by Defra. The ‘community share’ issue should be launched in late September, and will be available for anyone to invest between £250 and £20,000 and become a member of Halton Lune Hydro Ltd. which is currently being reregistered as a ‘Society for the Benefit of the Community’ (IPS). A number of community hydro schemes have already been built or are under construction, including Torrs Hydro in Yorkshire and Stockport Hydro, with nearly all having a similar structure.
The electricity generated will be used first by Lancaster Cohousing, who now own the last remaining mill at Halton, and have also built 41 dwellings built to the highest energy saving standards, and heated by a biomass district heating system. The surplus will be exported to the grid, and will be enough to power up to 300 homes.
All of the profits from the hydro scheme, which over time will amount to several hundred thousand pounds, will be used for the benefit of the community in and around the Parish of Halton with Aughton.